Martina McBride in Concert in New York

by Michael Rampa


It has been said that Martina McBride would draw well singing the phone book. Fans proved that on last year’s sold out “Joy Of Christmas” tour that featured 120 minutes of public domain songs. On this year’s “Everlasting” circuit, she takes on some of the best songs ever written.  The album is a collection of R&B and soul covers originally performed by legends like Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Van Morrison. It’s a tall order and a massive shift from her country comfort zone. But her legendary voice proved up to the challenge.

From the moment a full horn section opened the show by marching through the first row, it was clear that this night in western New York would be a radical departure from her past concerts. Three overly capable Motown backup singers were also employed to produce a wildly energetic, two hour non-stop auditory assault. After opening with the rocking “When God Fearin’ Women Get The Blues” she deftly moved through 22 songs of mostly original material with some live rarities. Her performance style usually mirrors her subdued staging. She has transitioned into to a much more active performer this time around with lots of dancing and even a harmonica solo.

Thy typical highlight of a McBride show is the one two knockout punch of “A Broken Wing” and “Independence Day.” But when she and her backup singers ripped into a foot stomping rendition of the Etta James classic “In The Basement,” (a powerful duet with Kelly Clarkson n the album) mid set it was the clear the audience would not have to wait for the big voiced signature ballads to witness the best number of the evening.

Some covers clearly lacked the rawness and soul of the originals. Compensation came through her velvety pipes. Though ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now” had the same deliberate glossy pop texture as Simply Red’s 1986 version, the chorus felt like it was being delivered on a strand of liquid silk. Elsewhere, she blistered on the all too scarce “Where Would You Be?” and Mark James’s “Suspicious Minds.”

One of the goals of the cross format album was to showcase her vocal skills beyond country; as one of the best singers across all genres and perhaps even deserving of a place in music history among the predecessors she pays homage to. Mission accomplished.

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